GR 33 - Requests for Accommodation by Persons with DisabilitiesComments for GR 33 must be received no later than April 30, 2007.
GR 9 COVER SHEET
New Rule 33 – Requests for Accommodation
Submitted by the Washington State Access to Justice Board
Suggested new General Rule 33, submitted by the Access to Justice Board and the WSBA, is intended to facilitate access to the justice system by persons with disabilities at all levels of court systems in the State of Washington. In order to address significant barriers experienced by persons with disabilities, the suggested rule establishes a uniform procedure for informing the court of a need for an accommodation and for the court to determine appropriate accommodations in individual circumstances. The suggested rule is further intended to accelerate the development of a comprehensive access management system to assure a clear, consistent, and effective approach to providing appropriate accommodations in Washington courts.
Both federal law (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 104 Stat. 337, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131-12165) and state law (RCW Ch. 49.60) prohibit discrimination by state and local government agencies based upon disability. In 2004, the United States Supreme Court ruled that courts have the affirmative obligation under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act to reasonably accommodate persons with disabilities in order to ensure their fundamental right of access to courts. Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509 (2004). The suggested rule will help to ensure that persons with disabilities have equal and meaningful access to the judicial system in Washington and guide courts in discharging this obligation as required by law.
Addressing requests for accommodation in the court system involves a multi-step process consisting of notification, assessment, and, as appropriate, accommodation. The first step requires an effective process for individuals to be able to notify the court of a need for an accommodation and the nature of the accommodation requested. Paragraph (a)(4) of the suggested rule defines the term “person with a disability,” and paragraph (b) establishes a process for applicants to present accommodation requests during the normal course of a pending litigation or other proceeding. This process includes a procedure for the automatic sealing of medical and health information used in assessing the request. Second, the court to which an application is directed must evaluate whether to grant the requested accommodation. Paragraph (c) of the suggested rule designates the considerations applicable to the decision, and paragraph (d) describes the circumstances in which a requested accommodation may be denied. Finally, the court must enter an order granting or denying the application and, if an accommodation has been granted, the court must specify the nature of the accommodation to be provided. Paragraph (e) of the suggested rule identifies the required content of an order deciding an application for accommodation and mandates notice to the applicant and appropriate court personnel. Paragraph (a)(1) of the suggested rule defines “accommodation” and lists examples of the types of accommodations the court may provide. And, if an accommodation is ordered, paragraph (f) directs the court to prescribe the duration of the accommodation, which may be for an indefinite period or for a particular proceeding or appearance.
To assist in the successful implementation of the suggested rule, and to provide a practical guide for judicial officers and court staff in complying with Tennessee v. Lane and applicable federal, state, and local law, the Access to Justice Board’s Impediments to Access to Justice Committee has also developed a guide for judicial officers and court staff, entitled Ensuring Equal Access for People with Disabilities: A Guide for Washington Courts, scheduled for publication and distribution in 2006. The Guide sets out options, devices, and services currently available to courts and other agencies to implement their duty to provide reasonable accommodations to persons with disabilities, including sign language interpreters, readers for people with visual impairments, personal assistants, appointment of counsel, and the like.
The suggested rule has been endorsed in principle by the Superior Court Judges Association and the District and Municipal Court Judges Association.
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